“Blessed are the peacemakers…” This month I began visiting classrooms teaching the children what it means to be a peacemaker. As a Beatitude, this one carries with it a powerful promise, “…for they shall be called the children of God.” We used simple actions to help us memorize the phrase as is demonstrated by three fourth graders below. But why did I choose this theme to begin our year?
It all actually started with the concept of bullying. This word has been thrown around the education world for at least 40 years. The definitions and reactions of individuals range from “Boys will be boys” to “My child was pushed in line so the school has a bullying problem.”
The most consistent definition to date of bullying goes something like this: “Repeated, intentional hurtful behavior toward another that involves some imbalance of power.” But one of the bigger issues in addressing this type of behavior is our use of terminology and the underlying emotional reactions that they trigger. One author puts it this way:
“There is the question of whether or when we should use the terms ‘bully’ and ‘victim.’ Common sense should help us decide. If you want to stigmatise someone and get them to oppose you, call him or her a bully. If you want to permanently dis-empower people, keep insisting that they are lifelong, irredeemable victims. However, if you want them to cooperate with you or be empowered you will do nothing of the sort. You will focus on their behaviour, not their character, and encourage them to behave better. BUT this does not mean we should close our eyes to the fact that some are much more prone to bully and/or be bullied than others and need special attention.” (Ken Rigby)
At St. Peter’s a team of teachers and I researched this topic last year from multiple perspectives (social, psychological, religious, academic). Our findings resulted in creating a program unique to St. Peter’s that we have called the “PeaceMakers Program.” It pulls from multiple sources on what we found as the best practices for working with children and families in this realm. The following are key areas in addressing bullying behavior:
- Every child/person is created good as an image of God and is to be treated with dignity and respect.
- Due to original sin, every child/person has tendencies toward negative and hurtful behavior toward others, thus everyone has tendencies toward bullying behavior.
- Calling someone a “bully” demeans their dignity and implies that he/she is not capable of change and will always be labeled as a bully. (Would you like your child called a bully when he/she does hurtful behavior?)
- Aggressive and hurtful behaviors need to be addressed seriously, but in a way that looks for the dignity of each person involved and tries to help each one grow in the way that is needed.
- Teaching virtue and social skills is the key to diminishing aggressive/negative behavior. It’s one thing to simply tell children, “Don’t hurt others.” It’s another thing to instill in them a desire to do and to be good and give them tools to help them do so.
- The more people in a child’s life who reinforce a message, the more likely the child will embrace and live that message.
That’s enough to chew on for now. Tune in to next week’s newsletter to see an overview of the PeaceMakers Program and to help you and your child prepare for PeaceMakers Week, Sept. 25-29.
God bless you!
Sister Mary Angela